He's seen as a "regular guy," a "friend," a "grandfather," and, as one teenager in Rome put it, he's someone who just "gets me." From the very beginning, Pope Francis was different. He is the first Jesuit named to the papacy, the first from outside Europe in 1,300 years. And in choosing the name Francis, the first pope to take the name of the saint from Assisi who renounced material wealth, he signaled he wants a new kind of papacy.
He is famous for taking buses and paying his own hotel bills, endearing himself to Europeans mired in the economic crisis and observers all over who have been disgusted by the perceived extravagances of the Vatican. He has opened dialogue with atheists and made surprise phone calls to those who reach out. In the past half year he has shown a liking for veering from the Vatican script, rocking the Catholic world with bombshell quotes like one about homosexuals. "Who am I to judge?" he asked rhetorically.
Some call this demagoguery, pandering at its worst, and claim that he is weakening the primacy of the papacy. Questions over his role in Argentina during the country's Dirty War remain. And while some see him as "ultraconservative," others see him as a raging liberal. But for all the hype, it might be that nothing is really changing. Pope Francis has stated himself that he supports the doctrine of the church. That means abortion is out; contraception, too; and most definitely gay marriage (though he did support civil unions as a compromise to a gay marriage law in Argentina). He wants a bigger role for women, but says the door is closed on women's ordination.